Surviving With Matt Minglewood
Matt Minglewood combines southern rock, country, Celtic and blues into each and every performance such as at the recent Cupid's Bluesfest organized by the Canada South Blues Society. Hailing from North Sydney, Cape Breton Island, "down east" culture exudes from Minglewood. He is a great story-teller, is full of humour and has a light-hearted approach to life and its challenges. These qualities have enabled him to survive the turbulent life of a musician. He looked back on his daring and risk-taking career that started in 1966 in a band called The Rockin' Saints. At that time he was playing organ and was still known by his real name Roy Batherson. 'In the beginning no one considered me a blues artist because I had success in rock/southern rock. How it (the blues music scene) has changed now? I don't know. I almost feel lucky I got started when I did because I don't think I'd want to start now, the way it is now. Its so corporate now, its sickening, you know?! A bunch of guys go out and go find talent and people put them all together and spend a bunch of money on them. They do videos -- the whole thing. They manufacture them. That's sort of stayed away from the blues for the most part. Blues has stayed pretty true. You gotta stand up for yourself. You gotta get up there on stage and produce otherwise everybody's gonna know. Its not like you can sell it with clothes and videos. You gotta go up there and play it.'
Matt continued on organ for a few years but slowly performed and recorded more and more guitar. In the current rendition of the Matt Minglewood band, he focuses entirely on guitar and vocals. 'I started on organ. I always played a little guitar and I played piano a bit. When I joined a band, they didn't have organ players back then so I got an organ and learned a few chords and I started from there. I had about 4 Hammonds and I dragged them around with the Leslies. I pulled my back and hurt my muscles carrying those things around but I loved them. I always had guitar players in my bands and I played a little guitar back and forth. I could never keep the guitar players. They'd always be leaving for one reason or another and I just got tired of it. I decided I got to get serious about this guitar stuff. I might have started a little late? When I first heard BB King it was like, wow, this is the real thing. Freddie King, Muddy Waters and all those guys influenced me. Even early John Mayall and Eric Clapton had an impact.'
Based on the lineup to purchase his CDs and get an autograph after his multi-genre embracing set at Cupids, he definitely didn't start playing guitar too late. Although he wasn't the festival's overall headliner, the Fogolar Furlan was bursting at the seems during his performance and it commanded the largest reaction from the crowd. This hasn't always been the case in his career that exceeds 35 years. He quickly rose to the top of Canadian blues-rock with a string of top selling albums on RCA. 'One of the hardest things was making my "first comeback" (said ironically since he never left). When I switched record companies and went to CBS, that was a big mistake. They didn't do anything. The album (M5) stiffed and I was considered a has been. I went home and took a year off and I came back in kind of a country blues vein with that "Me and The Boys" record. Coming back and playing some of these bars - oh man, I had to start at the bottom again. It was bizarre how quickly people forget (laughing at how fickle the music fans can be). I was playing in these hotels in Ontario with accommodations upstairs in some hotel room they wouldn't sell to normal people. Being away was tough -- I spent Christmas in a dump in London, Ontario. I had to put bedsheets on the window to block out the sun and then I had no heat. This was after I had gold records. I had to bear down and say do I really want to do this.'
He stuck with it and it started to pay off (again). Not only did he add to a string of gold records, he also achieved numerous award nominations, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Coast Music Association and a Great Canadian Blues Award from CBC's Saturday Night Blues radio program. Jokingly he states, 'I wish they'd give me money instead (laughter). I can't spend them (the awards) and it wouldn't be right to sell them. Its an honour really - anything that comes your way in life -- take it graciously.'
Minglewood almost has as many guitars as awards. Some are cherished more than others. 'The red 335 is my favourite. It is actually the one that gets used the most in the studio. Its old. We were playing up in Alaska and there was a fire in the bar that we played. I lost my Telecaster. We didn't have any insurance but the bar did. So they gave us the money and I bought it in Seattle for $300 bucks. Bought a Gretsch case with it for $15 bucks. A hard-shell and it saved it.' Referring to a story that he told during his set, 'I did literally run over it with the bus. I backed up and ran over it again because I didn't know what I had hit. I couldn't see anything in the mirror. I had it rebuilt and its been with me ever since. I have a black copy. Its a Scheckter but its a good one. I have a Godan which I just got. Its a Canadian guitar. It has an acoustic pickup in it as well as electric so it really makes for a nice mix. I can play songs that I can start on acoustic and I can add the electric in - its versatile that way.'
The east coast is well known for its Celtic music especially fiddle-playing. How did you end up playing blues down east and what is it like to be a bluesman there? 'About the same as everywhere it's tough as hell (laughter). I grew up on that fiddle stuff, my parents --- that's all they listened to. So I have an appreciation for it. I got hooked on the blues real early in life with guys like --- actually early rock and roll Elvis and Chuck Berry. I started searching back where they got their influences from and so I was always into it. I've always played a lot of different stuff as well. I've dabbled in country and rock obviously, funky stuff too. Its always been based in blues even if I was doin' country songs.'
Where would you like to see the blues head over the next 5 years? 'There is some awful good young people playing blues now. A lot of women are playing guitars, its really good.' Then he makes mention of a great new young blues messiah. 'I think there is gonna be some kid come along, a whiz, and take it in a direction like Jimi Hendrix did. I'm waiting for that kinda person to come along.'
With 10 previous albums out, what can we expect musically from Matt Minglewood in the future? 'I have to finish the live CD. That's what I'm doing now - "Live From Minglefest". We had Jeff Healey playing with us. Michael Pickett played on a couple cuts. I'm really looking forward to it because people have been torturing me forever to put out a live album. They say your studio albums are great but they're not the same - its not the same as seeing it live. You try real hard to capture that (in the studio) but its hard. This live one actually does capture it. Its got energy up the ying-yang. There's some rough spots, you know so what - there's a couple notes in between notes (laughter) but you get to the right notes. Its got great energy and I'm really happy with it. When I heard the rough stuff I said ya I'm gonna mix this - there's the live album people have been bugging me for.'
Matt Minglewood is a living Canadian music legend. His nation-wide popularity is a testimony to his timeless appeal. Be sure to pick up any of his previous CDs and the soon to be released "Live at MingleFest" and you will be rockin' the blues.
For Further info www.mattminglewood.com
Tim Holek, Freelance Journalist/Photographer: www.mnsi.net/~thblues
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